Posted in Prayer

Jesus Teach Us to Pray

The Gospel text for this Sunday is on prayer.  Where one of the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  The students will tell you that when the candy dish moves to the desk, it’s not a good sign.  You see, I’m struggling with what I’ll say about prayer.

The first part of the text is teaching them the prayer that we repeat every Sunday, the Lord’s Prayer, reminiscent of Matthew 6. Luke’s version of the prayer is shorter than the more familiar one from Matthew 6, containing only five petitions instead of the seven in Matthew. But the included five are all key petitions: “hallowed be your name,” “your kingdom come,” for daily bread, for forgiveness of sins and being spared the “time of trial.” So whether we pray Matthew or Luke’s version, we’re covering important theological ground and all the basics.

This is placed before a parable and explanation of the merits of persistent prayer.  All we have to do is ask and it will be given.

I was at a water park this summer, when the topic of prayer came up.  The guy was uneasy with prayer and how it works and he was questioning why God answers some prayers and not others.  He got this from a conversation he had listened to on the JOY FM (local Christian radio station) saying that God answers all prayer.  I listened.

A student came up to me after worship a couple weeks ago, questioning prayer too.  She said both of her roommates were Catholic and one of them had been raised by her aunt because her parents had passed away.  Anyway, she said that the aunt had been injured in a car accident and the roommate said she would pray for her.  But the Wesley student was uneasy with such a flippant response. Like the conversation was over because she was going to pray for her.  She asked me why would a loving God allow someone who already lost her parents to experience the accident of her aunt? I listened.

Both the students were well aware of my medical situation and it almost seemed that made me more approachable.

I cited Anne Lamott’s book on prayer, “Help, Thanks, Wow” in both conversations.  She says all prayer can be summed up in these words.  In a recent interview, she said about Help, “Well, I’ve heard people say that God is the gift of desperation, and there’s a lot to be said for having really reached a bottom where you’ve run out of anymore good ideas, or plans for everybody else’s behavior; or how to save and fix and rescue; or just get out of a huge mess, possibly of your own creation.  And when you’re done, you may take a long, quavering breath and say, ‘Help.’ People say ‘help’ without actually believing anything hears that. But it is the great prayer, and it is the hardest prayer, because you have to admit defeat — you have to surrender, which is the hardest thing any of us do, ever.”

She says about Thanks, “Thanks is the prayer of relief that help was on the way. It can be [the] pettiest, dumbest thing, but it could also be that you get the phone call that the diagnosis was much, much, much better than you had been fearing. The full prayer, and its entirety, is: Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. But for reasons of brevity, I just refer to it as Thanks.  It’s amazement and relief that you caught a break; that your family caught a break; that you didn’t have any reason to believe that things were really going to be OK, and then they were and you just can’t help but say thank you.”

She says about Wow, “Wow is the praise prayer. The prayer where we’re finally speechless — which in my case is saying something. … When I don’t know what else to do I go outside, and I see the sky and the trees and a bird flies by, and my mouth drops open again with wonder at the just sheer beauty of creation. And I say, ‘Wow.’ … You say it when you see the fjords for the first time at dawn, or you say it when you first see the new baby, and you say, ‘Wow. This is great.’ Wow is the prayer of wonder.”

On the way she sees prayer, “Prayer is not about saying, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to pray now.’ Or, ‘Oh, I see I’ve made a notation here to pray at 2:15.’ It’s about getting outside of your own self and hooking into something greater than that very, very limited part of our experience here — the ticker tape of thoughts and solutions, and trying to figure out who to blame. It’s sort of like blinking your eyes open.  It’s sort of like in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy lands in Oz and the movie goes from black and white to color, and it’s like having a new pair of glasses, and you say, ‘Wow!’ ”

I think of prayer as a turning towards God.  Or being in tune with God.  Does that mean we’re always in tune with God as we pray?  Nope.  It’s a turning towards God out of desperation, out of gratitude, at the awesomeness grandeur of God.  When we have no options left.

Praying is not easy for me.  That’s why I rejoice in the verses from Romans 8:26-27.  “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

I don’t know why God answers some prayers and seemingly doesn’t answer others.

I’ve always been uneasy when people say they’re praying for me.  I don’t question that they’re sincere but prayer gives you a stake in the outcome.  Intercessory prayer certainly gives you a stake in the outcome.  I can’t control the outcome and that’s where the uneasiness lies.

But I don’t need to control the outcome.

And that’s hard for me.  To trust.  And not control.

It’s a mystery why God answers some prayers and not others.  It reminds me of the scene from “Bruce Almighty” when he’s acting like God and answering yes to everyone’s prayers.

But I know that God is with us.  I feel that to the very core of my being.  God journeys with us through the good times and bad.

There’s no concluding paragraph.  It’s left unresolved.  Because it’s a continuing conversation.

I’ll leave you with Matt Maher’s, “Lord, I Need You.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuvfMDhTyMA

I’m pushing the prayer sermon back to next week.

Posted in Campus Ministry, Christian, Faith, Students

Duck, No Eye Contact, Run, Run Away

It’s that time of year in campus ministry world when we’re enjoying Orientation.  What that means at Winthrop is that we as all of the campus ministries (WCCM – Winthrop Cooperative Campus Ministries) come together and greet people at one table and provide brochures and info about all the groups.  We also let students know about the campus ministry open house and worship service for freshmen that we do right after they move in.  Good times.  A great way for people to get connected and meet other people of faith.

What is always amusing to me is the interactions with the students.  As soon as they read the sign on the placard behind me that says “Campus Ministries” some quickly look away and move quickly to the Greek Life table or the Study Abroad table or the DSU (Campus Entertainment/Activities/Awesomeness) table.  As parents read the sign though it’s funny to watch them often nudge their child and say, “Look campus ministries.  We should go over there.”  And the students that then pull them in another direction or say Mo-om or Da-ad, in that lovely two syllable exasperated way many of us Southerners have.  I can tell you that 9 times out of 10, that when a parent walks up to our table and signs their student up and the student is no where to be found or the student is standing impatiently behind the parent or grandparent hoping that they’ll just sign them up and be done with it – we’ll never see that student.  Sometimes it happens.  Rarely.  But that’s the thing about college – it’s on the student/young adult/person making their way on their own.

Two things happened today that were thought-provoking for me.  The first was a lady who stopped and got a card.  Her child wasn’t with her but she said that she wanted her to be involved with campus ministry.  She said that her daughter had never been involved in church and hadn’t ever really been inside one except for funerals and she really wished she would get involved.  She then said that the girl was dating a nice Christian boy that goes to church and she was hoping that maybe she would start going.

The other was a guy who walked up to the table and I smiled at home and he’s reaching his hand out to shake mine and I’m about to give him a WCCM card that has our website info with all of the campus ministries listed, and he reads the placard above my head that says “Campus Ministries” and then quickly jerks his hand back and says that’s okay.  I don’t need one of those cards.  Ouch, dude.

It’s just really funny dynamics. Some are super excited to hear about campus ministry on campus and this new church experience.  Some of our strongest leaders at Wesley are people I met at Orientation or at the beginning of the year Open House.  But I do wonder about all of the ones that cringe and walk away.

I ate lunch in the student center yesterday with the Dean of Students who is also our Board Chairperson.  She stopped to talk to some of the Orientation Assistants and I joined her.  At the end of the conversation she introduced me as the United Methodist Campus Minister.  As we were walking away afterwards, she asked if I had noticed how they blinked and paused.  She’s a campus minister?  Who knows what they were thinking?  I had seen a few of them before but didn’t know any of them.

There’s so much rich ground to cover here – what is the perception of the Church today?  What do these young adults think of when they hear campus ministry?  I have the feeling that some of them think I’m going to make them walk over to the West Center and jump in the pool so I can baptize them right there. The mixed bag of looks from relief and joy and hope at finding a community to apprehension, mistrust and all sorts of things.  It’s interesting.

I’m curious whether more or less students would stop at religious affiliated tables in different parts of the country.  It’s always fun to see which denominational affiliation stops by or the increase in how many people check non-denominational.

My primary question today though, in the midst of the news covering Koran burnings, church trials, and the like – what does this new class think of when they hear the word “Christian”?  What do they think of in the importance of finding a community of faith while in college?  Are they going to stay connected to their churches back home and just take a break for awhile?  What does it mean to be Church?  What are the differences and similarities in how we would define that?